Hagane no renkinjutsushi, known as Fullmetal Alchemist to legions of fans, is a tale of two brothers whose lives are forever altered when they attempt to meddle in the complicated and costly practice of alchemy. Hiromu Arakawa‘s manga has already been adapted into two anime series and two animated movies seen the world over, but the property’s first live-action adaptation is due out at the end of this year, directed by Fumihiko Sori (Pinpon). That fact alone has many fans excited, but as is the case with modern film culture, and especially recent attempts to adapt anime properties, a new racial controversy is taking the spotlight.
Warner Bros. Japan recently released two new trailers for the live-action film that sees the Elric Brothers on the path to atone for their mistake–attempting to resurrect their deceased mother through alchemy–and put things back to rights. These new looks are accompanied by some new images from the film that tease some pivotal plot moments that are both quite shocking and rather heartbreaking; fans should recognize them on sight. But the fact that Fullmetal Alchemist, which was initially based on Europe’s Industrial Revolution and has both character designs and settings that reflect as much, has a Japanese cast performing the roles has led some fans to cry racism. More on that below.
Starring Ryôsuke Yamada, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka, Ryûta Satô, Yô Ôizumi, and Misako Renbutsu, Fullmetal Alchemist opens in Japan on December 1st; there are currently no other release dates announced.
Check out the trailers below, followed by a behind-the-scenes image that fans will know well (and will weep over):
— 映画『鋼の錬金術師』公式 (@hagarenmovie) April 3, 2017
Now, about that racism. Recently, Paramount’s Ghost in the Shell adaptation took a lashing for perceived racism and “whitewashing” of traditionally Japanese characters. Comments buried in some of the non-official YouTube rips of the Fullmetal Alchemist trailers (the official posts were wise enough to disable comments) are now crying foul for this film saying that the roles of Edward, at least, shouldn’t be played by a Japanese actor in a blonde wig. (First of all, it’s not a wig. Second of all, the European setting was simply the inspiration; there is no Resembool or Ishbal, nor is alchemy a thing that works. Thirdly, there’s no word on how sentient suits of armor feel about Al’s portrayal of their culture.) Is this a serious concern, a response to Ghost in the Shell‘s controversy, or a silly distraction?
Here are my two cents: It’s an actor’s job to act, to inhabit the role, whether that’s a character of another race, culture, creed, persuasion, or even species; increasingly, however, it’s also their job to predict how certain roles will help or harm their standing and to accept or decline accordingly. It’s a (major) studio’s job to make money, and they do this in a number of ways, but one way is by hiring the most talented and bankable stars they can afford for the role; increasingly, however, it’s also their job to know that their decisions will have repercussions both on social media and at the box office. It’s the audiences job to keep the studios honest and to reward or punish them through the spending or withholding of their hard-earned cash. If you want to see a live-action Fullmetal Alchemist regardless of pre-conceived notions (like I do), awesome; go for it. If you want to publicly cry foul regarding creative and business decisions while ultimately boycotting a finished work, more power to you, though decrying the film itself before even seeing it sounds a bit silly to me.
Now that that’s out of the way, can we get back to being excited for / enjoying movies again? Who among you is interested in checking out Fullmetal Alchemist if it ever makes its way to your local theater or DVD/Blu-ray? Let us know in the comments! (Oh and keep Shou Tucker’s desk trivia to a minimum for spoiler reasons, please.)